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encouraged the agencies of law enforcement to seize property
without due process and fill our prisonsincluding the abomination
of private prisonswith citizens sentenced to long terms
in a fraudulent "war on drugs" that has no end and
with no victory in sight. Many vital historical liberties already
have been sacrificed in the name of the "drug war"
and worse is yet to come. The Federal Bureau of Investigation
has repeatedly warned us of terrorist catastrophes that lie ahead,
and as the international crisis grows, as it surely will, other
unanticipated barbarous acts by our enemies will provide even
more "justification" to clamp down on constitutional
An intentional tension was created by the
United States Constitution between those who believe the government
should be allowed to operate in secrecy and those members of
a free press who aggressively pursue their obligation to report
information essential to a free society.
A classic example of this strained relationship
occurred during the enemy's Tet Offensive in Vietnam in 1968,
when Secretary of State Dean Rusk replied to a reporter's question
with an angry snarl: "Whose side are you on?" That
tension, brought on by those in the administration and the military
who perceive the press as a propaganda arm of the government,
has been heightened in the passions inflamed by the horrendous
September 11 attacks.In their wake we are being subjected to
a renewed assault on our right to dissent, which
always serves as a moderating
force in our democracy but becomes an essential bulwark against
extremism in times of crisis. Witness the laws that don't distinguish
between dangerous "news leaks" that imperil our security
and those that provide important information to the public that
the government wants to suppress.
One Step After Another
ominous warnings abound. It may have been only an unfortunate
accident that President Bush chose to call for a "crusade"
against the fundamentalists of Islam, a word that stirs memories
of centuries of crusades to drive Islam out of Jerusalem. He
withdrew that ill-conceived characterization but then uttered
the chilling words that "either you are with us or you are
with the terrorists." The faulty logic of this simplistic
generalization, whatever it was intended to convey, can be read
to mean that criticism of government policies, no matter how
constructive, will be regarded as unpatriotic.
Then, so there would be no misunderstanding
of the administration's intentions, Attorney General John Ashcroft
issued a warning "to those who scare peace-loving people
with phantoms of lost liberty." His message was this: "Your
tactics only aid terrorists, for they erode our national unity
and diminish our resolve. They give ammunition to America's enemies,
and pause to America's friends."
U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olson, notably
breaking the tradition that those in his position do not engage
in political activities, joined Attorney General Ashcroft to
testify in favor of a proposed antiterrorism bill so broad that
it would permit indefinite detention of persons defined by a
government agency as "terrorists." That the United States Senate voted to stand firm against that
preposterous demandand also inserted a sunset provision
so that portions of the law die in four years--was only mildly
reassuring. Transparently revealed was a bureaucratic mindset
that sees nothing wrong with the totalitarian concept that the
state may imprison someone indefinitely without charges and subject
"terror suspects" to Star Chamber trials.
Look at what is tolerated in the hastily
passed "U.S.A. PATRIOT Act"an adolescent acronym
for "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate
Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism." It
contains language modeled on the laws of Nazi Germany. This civil
libertarian's nightmare threatens American citizens who have
committed no criminal act, invades our cherished privacy, increases
the search and seizure powers of law enforcement agencies and
opens the door for the Central Intelligence Agency to create
files on Americans while engaging for the first timelegallyin
To comfort us, the feds promised not to read
our mail if we are not a suspect, even though they can. They
insist, in the words of a White House official, that "a
new reality" has replaced the old rules of law enforcement.
In darker days that lie ahead, this law will serve as a blunt
instrument in the hands of those who actively desire the powers
of a police state.
Shortly after September 11, President
Bush signed an intelligence "finding" that directed
the CIA to engage in the most high-risk covert actions since
the agency was founded in 1947. He also added more than one billion
dollars to the CIA's budget in what one high administration spokesman
candidly termed a "green light" to undertake "lethal
operations that were unthinkable pre-September 11."
President Bush's directive reportedly
gave "the highest possible priority" to assassinate
foreign political leaders, thereby reversing executive orders
signed by Presidents Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush and Clinton that banned the CIA
and all other government agencies from involvement in political
assassinations. This unprecedented action sets the United States
on a path of political assassinations similar to that pursued
by Israeli right-wing religious fanatics. The blowback from that
policy led to the assassination of one of their own cabinet members
by Palestinian extremists. The president's "finding"
was made even more disconcerting by the subsequent warning of
Vice President Cheney, who served as secretay of defense under
Bush's father in the Persian Gulf War of 1991, that the current
war is different "in the sense that it may never endat
least, not in our lifetime."
All that in 2001, the first year of the
George W. Bush administration. George Orwell's "1984"
missed by only seventeen years.
Don't Ignore the Warnings
on others' individual freedoms come easily to the high-level
members of the Bush administration. Almost without exception
they have come from high levels of a corporate culture that has
demonstrated a marked disdain for democratic values, a proclivity
to engage in illegal activities and a penchant for avarice and
deceit unequalled by the robber barons of the past. Even Wall
Street, that bastion of corruption, professes to be shocked by
the unparalleled criminal activities of Enron, a corporation
linked to the highest levels of the current administration.
Shortly after the inauguration, the White
House arrogantly pushed through a tax cut almost exclusively
for the benefit of corporations and the wealthy. After erasing
the budget surplus they inherited, they dare to propose another
similar tax cut for the rich while millions of Americans have lost their
jobs in the unfolding recession.
Ashcroft was booted from his office in
the United States Senate by the voters of Missouri in the last
electionlosing to a dead Democrat. He has been assigned
the role of point man of the campaign to jettison the Bill of
Rights and promote the agenda of America's religious extremists.
He has used the draconian federal drug laws to threaten withdrawal
of the licenses of Oregon physicians who prescribe federally
controlled drugs for terminally ill patients under terms of that
state's "Death With Dignity Act." The voters of Oregon
had insisted on passing that law not once, but twiceby
a margin of 31,000 votes in 1994 and, after a challenge, by a
margin of 220,000 votes in 1997.
In addition to tormenting those who wish to
die in peace in Oregon, Ashcroft unleashed federal DEA agents
in California to deny medicine to patients dying of cancer, as
if their smoking a joint constituted a threat to national security.
The Bush administration also seeks to give
government agents the right to eavesdrop on conversations between
"suspected terrorists" and their attorneys, thereby
suspending the Sixth Amendment, which protects the right of a
lawyer and a client to engage in confidential discussions. "Suspected
terrorists" is an undefined term that could be applied to
anyone unhappy with a government policy. The delicate balance
between liberty and risk is mocked by such absurd proposals.
The time has come to understand that the Republicans
in Congress and in the White House, bought by corporate campaign
contributions and other largess, have sought coldly and with
malice to widen a schism that existed in America before September
11.They have embarked on a campaign that to the naked eye has
the makings of a disastrous class war. They make it perfectly
clear that they mean business, and the situation will
only worsen when the avenues of dissent, one by one, are cut
Consider also the fragility of hard-won reproductive
freedom in the United States. A woman's fundamental right to
prevent the government from controlling what she may do with
her body is imperiled. This administration is unremittingly hostile
to freedom of choice. It awaits only the opportunity to appoint
one or two Supreme Court justices to overturn Roe v. Wade,
a decision that has been under attack, primarily by American
religious fundamentalists, since it was passed in 1973. Even
now, four Supreme Court justices need to persuade only one of
the remaining justices to join them and return the nation to
the dark ages of back-alley abortions.
President Bush has been forthright in declaring
that, given the opportunity, he would appoint justices to the
Supreme Court like Antonio Scalia and Clarence Thomas. We would
be fools if we did not believe that he would attempt to fulfill
that oft-repeated promise.
Corporate Control of Our News Media
victory of the United States in the Persian Gulf War, then-Secretary
of State James Baker reminisced at a gathering of the faithful.
"After Desert Storm," he recalled,
"who could not be moved by the sight of that poor, demoralized
rabbleoutwitted, outflanked, outmaneuvered by the U.S.
military. But, I think, given time, the press will bounce back."
The joke, greeted by loud laughter, had more
than the usual amount of truth in it. It underlined the fact
that the military had succeeded in neutering the watchdogs of
the American news media. The Pentagon, stung by its military defeat in Vietnam after years
of lies to the American publicdocumented for all to see
in the Pentagon Papers, the confessions of the perpetrators and
facts recently disclosedheavily censored coverage of the
war against Iraq. The meek protests from the corporate newspapers,
magazines and broadcasters were ignored as the Pentagon formed
rear-echelon "pools" to feed reports to the correspondents.
The lapdog networks whined before lying down.
Thus we are told, in this time when jingoism
sometimes passes for true patriotism, that "the first war
of the twenty-first century" is "a different kind of
war." It is a war in which even fewer American correspondents
are allowed to cover frontline actions. Pentagon orders prohibit
journalists from accompanying troops. The controls put on coverage
of the Gulf War and the subsequent invasions of Panama and Grenada
are now magnified and solidified. Military and government authorities
openly regard a free and uncontrolled press as a menace. They
seek cheerleaders, not professional reporting and critical analysis.
They have taken advantage of the national crisis
to achieve censorship of the news media, encourage self-censorship
by the news media and promote the insidious concept that equates
dissent with disloyalty. In hard-nosed phone calls to all of
the television networks, Condoleezza Rice had the effrontery
to suggest that reports from Al Jazeera, the television station
watched by millions of Arab viewers, should be withheld from
the people of the United States. Osama bin Laden, this bunch
in the White House tells us with a straight face, may actually
be sending secret instructions to his followers, as if he lacked
other avenues to reach them.
Media control is so much easier now for
the government than it was in the old days, when most of those
who owned newspapers, magazines and
broadcast networks were far
more sensitive to their journalistic and public service responsibilities.
In wartime they insisted on serving the citizens of the United
States by reporting from the front lines.
The News Media in Crisis,
is also a time of crisis for a free and independent press. Media
mergers, especially in the last 20 years, have enormously expanded
the power of corporations that were in the entertainment business
and had no experience in journalism. Their primary goal is not
to fulfill the constitutional mission of the Fourth Estate but
to increase profits for the benefit of executives and stockholders.
The gaps in public understanding of the role of the press as
a watchdog of government are frightening.
Attorney General Ashcroft recently told
the Justice Department to give federal agencies "great leeway
to deny press requests for public information guaranteed under
the Freedom of Information Act." Congress had passed the
FOI Act in 1974 when the public was aroused by the half-truths
and deliberate lies from government officials during the Vietnam
war and Nixon's subsequent Watergate scandal. The FOI Act has
come to be regarded as an essential check on government malfeasance.
Yet Ashcroft's pronouncement drew hardly a peep of protest on
the editorial pages of the nation's corporate daily press or
a note of concern from the chattering heads on the multiple channels
of the right-wing corporate networks.
Add to that the failure of the news
media to protest President Bush's executive order on November
1 restricting public access to his presidential papers and those
of former presidentsincluding the record of his father. Three times he delayed release of Reagan's presidential papersby
law to be made public on January 20, 2001before seizing
the opportunity to issue an executive order in the wake of the
September 11 attacks.This brazen executive reversal violates
the Presidential Records Act passed by Congress in 1978, which
provided for the release of papers 12 years after a president
leaves office. The Bush administration, using the disgraced jargon
of "national security concerns," reversed an act of
Congress with an executive order that, if left unchallenged,
eliminates forever any further investigation of the well-established
scandals of the Reagan-Bush years.
Several presidential historians have
asserted publicly that the real concern of the White House is
not national security but what the papers of President Reagan
would reveal about not only his administration but also about
the officials who form the inner circle of the current administration.
The news media glossed over an executive act that violates both
the law and the spirit of a free society. And where is the call
for a timorous Congress to protect the people's right to know
not only what their government is doing but also what their government
Graham and the 'Permanent Establishment'
Henry Kissinger was the person chosen to deliver the first eulogy
in a parade of celebrities at the funeral services a few months
ago for Katharine Graham.
The man who three decades earlier had
called the publication of the Pentagon Papers "treasonable"
stood unashamedly in the National Cathedral to hail the late
Washington Post publisher as "a seminal figure in
the battle to submit even the highest officials to ethical and
judicial norms." Then, unmarked by America's corporate news
media,the former secretary of state
uttered an extraordinary proposition:
"The Kay of the permanent establishment,"
he said, "never lost sight of the fact that societies thrive
not only by the victories of their factions but by their ultimate
This proud proclamation by a principal
figure of the self-proclaimed "permanent establishment"
confirms what for so long has been obvious but nonetheless vigorously
denied by those in power. Contrary to Kissinger's view, societies
do not thrive when governed by a cabal protected by those who
control the channels of information. That is the path to totalitarianism.
And this public assertion comes from a man perilously close to
being indicted in several countries for war crimes and who recently
had to flee Paris in a hurry to avoid the wheels of justice grinding
at his heels.
The same Katharine Graham extravagantly
eulogized by members of the permanent establishment delivered
a speech at CIA headquarters in 1988. In it she clearly expressed
her belief in secret government and described the prerogratives
of publishers in these words:
"We live in a dirty and dangerous
world. There are some things the general public does not need
to know and shouldn't. I believe democracy flourishes when the
government can take legitimate steps to keep its secrets, and
when the press can decide whether to print what it knows."
These beliefs, widely held by many in
the legislative, executive and judicial branches of our government
today, are shared by others in the corporations that control
the major sources of news and opinion. Media mergers, especially
in last 20 years, have resulted in the conquest of news networks
by corporations mainly experienced in the entertainment function
Other right-wing corporations control chains
of newspapers and magazines that limit the areas of public discussion
and dissent. President Eisenhower's inspired warning, on his departure from
the presidency in 1960, against the powers of the military-industrial
complex has been expanded into the even more dangerous military-industrial-
A chill wind blows from Washington. The
messages of concern come increasingly from sites on the Internet,
in the pages of publications termed "alternatives"
to the mainstream press, and even now and then from niches of
the corporate media itself.
What History Tells Us
approaching my 80th birthday. Many friends have questioned why
I continue to devote so much time and energy in the last decades
of my life to warning of our nation's drift toward an authoritarian
state. Burned into me on the front lines of World War II in Europe
were two dominant influences on my life: the depth of courage
shared by so many young men to preserve our freedoms and a bitter
hatred of the tenets and practices of Nazism.
I had experienced the stench of totalitarianism
and I caught another whiff of it when the shameless ballyhoo
boys in the White House chose to name our new Gestapo the "White
House Office of Homeland Security." The word "Homeland,"
rarely used by Americans until 1997, brought back memories of
the "Fatherland" of Nazi Germany and the "Motherland"
of Communist Russia.
The White House agency was created by
executive order, without approval of Congress and without Senate
confirmation of the man chosen to head it. And then the president,
a member of a family whose repeated transgressions of the law
are almost beyond belief, has the gall to advise us that "You
can trust this administration."
As a child in Denver during the Great
Depression that threatened to destroy the foundation of our nation,
I vividly remember sitting on the front porch of my home on West
Colfax Avenue and watching the procession of Fords filled with
white-sheeted members of the Ku Klux Klan on their way to burn
a cross on Coors Mountain. At the dinner table in my house I
learned of the injustices inflicted by the Espionage Act of 1917
on Americans of German descent and those sincerely opposed to
the Great War, and then the subsequent manufactured "red
scare" and the infamous "Palmer Raids."
Before going off to war myself, I watched
helplessly as more than 110,000 men, women and children of Japanese
descent, most of them American citizens, were sent to what we
avoided calling concentration camps. I came to loathe the bigoted
and benighted House Unamerican Activities Committee of the 40s,
the McCarthyism of the 50s, and the surveillance and harassment
of American citizens expressing their free speech rights in opposition
to the war in Vietnam. None among us should forget the Nixon
administration's use of the FBI in the infamous COINTELPRO operation,
now being employed as a blueprint for current inquisitions.
As a student of history and a professor
teaching history, I delved into the darkest periods Americans
had suffered under their government, starting with the Alien
and Sedition Acts of 1798 that targeted anyone who criticized
the government. For more than 40 years, ever since two foreign
assignments for the U.S. State Department in the early 60s, I
have openly questioned and opposed rogue operations of the CIA
and other aspects of American foreign policy that later proved
disastrous. The lesson of history that many Americans never seem
to learn is that the citizens of our nation have inevitably come
to regret the ill-advised actions taken by government in the
name of "national security."